Now that the dust has settled from the JFKARC review, more than one researcher has cast a jaundiced eye on the Transparency Plans (TPs) filed by the five agencies that still want to continue redactions in ARC records.
Why jaundiced? The TPs give both the redactions remaining in the ARC, and the schedule for their release, and that schedule is not nearly fast enough for researchers’ tastes. To be fair, it has been a while since the JFK act was passed in 1992, almost 32 years in fact. Hence the polemical tone of most online discussion of the plans.
Polemic aside, useful contributions on the TPs have recently come from Rex Bradford at the MFF website. This post will take a look at two of these: 1) a revision of Bradford’s October 2023 post on the TPs, and 2) a new lookup feature for the TPs in the MFF JFK Database Explorer.
Just to make sure we are on the same page, the JFK Transparency Plans were mandated by President Biden’s memos on the ARC. For the agencies who wished to continue redacting information in ARC records, Biden required a detailed list of everything they wanted to redact in the records, an explanation of why it needed to be redacted, and a schedule for continued review of the redactions until they were finally released.
There were five agencies which proposed continued redactions, so there are five Transparency Plans. The five agencies are the CIA, the FBI, the Department of State (DOS), the Department of Defense (DOD), and the National Archives (NARA).
The CIA plan was of course by far the most extensive, since they want to redact the largest number of documents. I gave a preliminary account of the overall picture for all five plans here. I did not, however, give a detailed description of the records in all five plans.
This was provided by Rex Bradford in his long post at the MFF website on the state of the ARC, 2023, available here. I did a follow up note on Rex’s post soon after, available here, in which I accepted most of his counts.
Why the hassle with the TP lists? Well, instead of giving us real spreadsheets with associated metadata, the information was posted online by NARA in PDF format and apparently the PDFs were constructed by scanning the spreadsheets that the five agencies produced. Using OCR on these produced plenty of garbles, so that the whole thing really needed going over manually, item by item.
Rex bit the bullet soon after Christmas, 2023, and revised his table, posting numerous changes. Everyone interested should take a look at the revised table. My earlier posts had focused mainly on the CIA TP, so I had done that manual verification for the CIA, but did not go over the other four plans in the detail needed. Mea culpa, and thanks Rex for going back and posting corrections.
New TP counts
Following is a look at the overall TP counts as currently established in Rex’s table.
I do not list subcounts for each agency in each plan, see Bradford’s table for these. There are still a few places in this new count where I would offer some corrections.
The CIA TP should be 3648, not 3649. Rex’s table lists a “181” (NARA) record, this is 181-10002-10296. It was released in full on Dec 15, 2022, and should therefore not be on this list. I have a note on this record here.
The spreadsheet for the FBI TP has 106 rows, not 105. Not sure where Rex is off here. The FBI TP counts some records more than once because it lists records by the information redacted in them. There are 22 records which are withheld due to a court seal. These are all MLK records, and will be released by the court in 2027. There are 44 records which have the numbers for confidential informants. These will be withheld till the death of the subjects. There are 40 records which have the SSNs of living persons. These will also be withheld till the death of the subjects.
There is overlap between these (some records have both informant numbers and SSNs, or there are multiple SSNs in one record), so the total of unique record numbers is 96.
For the DOD TP, there are 313 records. This was a pain in the butt to count, I got it wrong repeatedly, but I now see that Rex’s numbers are correct, both total and agency subcounts.
For the DOS TP, I get 29 unique records. Rex lists 30 records for the DOS in his table, but in his discussion below this he says there are 31. I think the number 31 may come from Blinken’s letter, but the letter is wrong, probably due to last minute decisions to release/withhold.
The DOS TP lists hundreds of individual redactions in 124-10273-10289. This is a mammoth 1,417 page FBI file. According to the cover letter sent to the NSC by Secretary of State Blinken, this and the other FBI files “contain details of a joint intelligence program of the Department and the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Although this program was terminated in 1974, the specific details of its activities would cause serious harm to our relations with several specific countries if released.”
According to Blinken, there are 20 FBI records in the DOS TP, but I get only 18.
The DOS TP also lists 10 CIA records. These are actually joint DOS-CIA memos to the ARRB dating from the 1990s. Blinken’s letter describes these records as follows: “[In the memos,] the Department and the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) defend certain redactions requested in actual assassination records by discussing a joint intelligence program that the two agencies still operate today. Release of the details of that program, as found in these 11 records, would greatly harm the CIA’s intelligence capabilities and cause extreme difficulties in the Department’s conduct of relations with other governments.”
Blinken’s letter says there are 11 of these CIA records, but there are in fact only 10. One may have been released after Blinken’s letter was composed perhaps. Just a guess.
Along with the joint DOS-CIA memos and the fBI files, there is also the Schlesinger memo, which showed up in the Church committee records (prefix 157). I have discussed this elsewhere, and Rex discusses it as well in his MFF post, no more needed here. So, 10 CIA memos plus 18 FBI files, plus S memo = 29 records in the DOS TP.
The NARA TP is the last and in many ways the least debatable TP. NARA does not want to release personal information, primarily SSNs of living people. NARA’s TP lists 358 such records. These overlap in some places with the FBI records. NARA also has two typewriter “ribbons” that cannot be posted online, but are not available for inspection at the archive, so they go on the list. I gather that these ribbons, or whatever they are, are withheld because NARA is not yet sure what, if anything, is on them.
That is the revised table. According to Rex, there are 4,455 records listed, and 4,385 unique record numbers in the five TPs. This is lower than his original October count of 4,608. I originally counted 4,342, which seems pretty good. On “The Price Is Right”, I would win!
The “uncounted” 2023 releases
Nota Bene! Neither of these numbers, 4385 or 4342, is correct if we are talking about ARC records that still have redactions.
Rex knows this full well. He observes in his revised post that “The plans were created in late 2022, and do not account for the 2023 releases, and perhaps some of the 12/15/2022 releases as well. Spot-checking showed that more than 40% of the Church Committee and HSCA records in the CIA transparency plan appear to now be open in full. Many CIA records in its transparency plan are also now open in full; the MFF has not attempted to do a full accounting.”
I have attempted to do such an accounting, and have regularly posted my counts on this blog. See my October response to the MFF 2023 overview for details (available here). The quick summary: at least 1569, and probably over 1600 CIA TP records were released in full in 2023. Take the higher number of 4385 TP records, and there are 2785 records still redacted in the ARC. Around 400 of these records redact only the SSNs of living people. These redactions are meaningless for any purpose I can imagine, so 2385 records still have redactions which might be useful for some purpose. About 550 of these are listed in the FBI, DOS, and DOD TPs. The remaining 1800 plus are in the CIA TP.
Attempts to inflate this number are not to be taken seriously. Jeff Morley and his JFK Facts sub-stack blog are primary offenders in this area and his inflated claims often appear in other publications when they interview Morley.
TPs in the JFK Explorer
The new MFF feature takes the form of an extra bell (or whistle) for the great JFK Database Explorer (JFK DBE) at the Mary Ferrell Foundation website, available here.
This feature is actually just another condition you can set when selecting record sets in the DBE, which already had an almost bewildering variety of options. This new one now lets you choose to view one or all of the record sets for the five transparency plan.
At first glance, however, the results are somewhat odd. For example, setting the filter to DOD TP docs with no other conditions turns up only 66 docs! Why?
It turns out that 220 records in the DOD TP are NSA records (prefix 144). These records are still missing from the JFK Database. The MFF record lookup checks only the JFK database, so it can’t find any of these.
In fact, all of these records were released (in redacted form) by NARA in 2022. One can therefore still benefit from going over the information in the DOD TP while reviewing the NSA records online.
The IRR records (prefix 194) present a similar case. Look up the NARA TP docs (no other filters) and there are only 208 hits. This is because the IRR records, of which there were thousands, are entirely missing from the JFK Database. However, these IRR records were also released in redacted form by NARA in 2022, and one can check online to verify whether they indeed redact only places that conceivably could be SSNs.
My two cents
Cent number one: Rex Bradford and the MFF website continue to be a non-pareil resource for those interested in the JFKARC, the documentary record of the JFK assassination, and a vast array of Cold War materials from the 1940s up to the 1970s.
Cent number two: NARA has done diligent, rigorous work in putting ARC materials online. The task is not yet completed, but it is far closer to completion than people have believed or claimed.